Last year, Kawasaki topped the score sheet in our 2012 450 Motocross Shootout thanks to a monster motor and predictable handling. Although the 2012 model was an all-new machine Team Green didn’t take a break from development on the 2013 KX450F. Instead they gave it a stiffer swingarm, updated ECU settings, new engine internals and a Kayaba Pneumatic Spring Fork. That’s a hefty amount of changes after a redesign the year before.
Make no mistake about it; the KX450F has gained a reputation for having one of the strongest motors in the business. Last year’s mill was explosive and borderline out of control. Kawasaki’s engineers worked to reign in the green meanie with new ECU settings and a mellower cam and piston. Cracking the throttle to the stop rewards the rider with a rush of power from the very bottom of the rev range to the top, but it is now easier to control.
Our Vet racer Bret Milan couldn’t contain his excitement with the Kawasaki’s powerplant, “Wow! This motor is really in a class of
Although the 2013 KX450F didn’t put out the most power on the dyno, on the track it felt stronger than any other.
its own. The Kawi pulls out of corners like a locomotive and flies down the fastest straightaways like a top-fuel dragster. This is really a brilliant motor. If you’re looking for the best motor in the bunch, look no further. The engine defines the KX450F.”
Sirius Radio host and ex-pro skateboarder Jason Ellis also preferred the power delivery of the KX, “It’s got power on the bottom, power on the top; it’s the fastest by far. It might not have as much on the bottom as the Honda, but it just rips up the hills.”
Strapped down to the MotoUSA dyno, the KX belted out a fourth-best 49.55 horsepower (fourth place) and a third-best 31.15 lb-ft of torque. A surprising result considering the rave power reviews from the testing crew. It just goes to show that data is only part of the story.
Dropping the hammer in third gear pushes the 250-pound KX450F from 15 MPH to 40 MPH in 2.588 seconds over a distance of 114.5 feet, a first place result. From the start gate to the 150 mark, the Kawasaki also was top dog reaching the holeshot line in 4.19 seconds at 41.2 MPH, beating the KTM 450 SX-F by just a hundredth of a second. With the launch control engaged we recorded a slightly slower result of 4.24 seconds and 42.3 MPH, but this was only to satisfy our own curiosity and did not count towards the final results.
Last year the Kawasaki ranked mid-pack in terms of suspension performance, but the addition of a KYB Pneumatic Spring Fork upped the scores from our testers, taking the full 10 points for first place. Just like the Honda, making spring rate adjustments is quick and easy.
“Kawasaki made a basic initial setup on the suspension for me and it was perfect,” claims X Games Gold-medal winner Vicki Golden. “The bike never got out of shape, and I felt like I could push the hardest on with it being a stock setup. The suspension tracked amazingly well on high-speed rough sections.”
The 2013 KX450F may not be the sharpest handler in the group, but it is stable at speed when the track gets rough.
Handling scores also jumped this year thanks to the air fork and a reinforced swingarm. Getting into rutted corners took more effort than the Suzuki and Honda, but on high-speed sweepers nothing could touch the Kawi.
“The Kawasaki is definitely better than last year,” states Frankie Garcia. “The toned down power along with the braced swing arm made it easier to ride; that being said I do wish it would turn quicker in the tight stuff. But on the fast flat-track style corners it is planted and goes where you want it to.”
“The KX450F is certainly not the sharpest cornering bike in the bunch, but I didn’t notice any big problems getting it through the turns,” explains Milan. “It was certainly the most stable and comfortable bike to ride as the track deteriorated. This stability was amplified by the excellent suspension performance. A very neutral handling bike, you won’t dive under a Suzuki in a corner, but you might just pass it in the braking bumps at the end of the next straightaway.”
When you do reach the end of the straight the Kawasaki brakes will get you slowed down, but not as effectively as the two KTMs or the Honda. The power is there, but the lever felt soft. Additionally the front brake had some fade towards the end of the moto for our faster riders.
“The Kawasaki’s brakes were good,” says pro-level tester Nick Thiel. “But they lacked the strength that I expected them to have.”
When it came to the riding compartment, the Kawasaki was more open and felt larger than most of the other bikes. With such a wide range of rider sizes in our test there was few complaints about the layout of the KX’s cockpit. Our fastest rider Chris See would have liked more compact ergos, but the rest of us ranked the Kawasaki as one of the best.
“I felt the most comfortable in the cockpit of the Kawasaki and there’s enough options to fit a smaller rider like me or even
someone taller than average like Bret,” comments Golden. “The bike felt narrow width-wise and I could move anywhere I wanted on the bike. I did notice that the header sticks out a little too far and I hit it with my boot a few times while riding.”
Rowing through the gearbox the Kawasaki was slightly notchy under power, but it never missed a shift or popped out of gear. It felt like it just took slightly more effort to grab the next upshift. Despite this, the Kawasaki garnered enough votes to give it a second place showing, due to excellent gearing and a silky smooth clutch.
When it came time to break out the stopwatch for the Super Lap, the Kawasaki reigned supreme with an average lap of 2:27.5, over two seconds faster than the second place bike. Both Thiel and See turned their best lap on the KX450, meanwhile Golden was around a second slower on the green bike than the two orange machines.
Kawasaki once again has a winner on its hands with the 2013 KX450F. In our subjective scoring the green machine received the highest honor in four of the eight categories and only dropped lower than second once. Not one of our testers was surprised with the Kawi being crowned champ. With an engine that can do no wrong and even better handling than before, Kawasaki has found the formula for the best 450 motocrosser money can buy.